In Kashmir Saffron plan failing to revive crop, say water-starved farmers

The mission has been extended until March 2018 because it has yet to achieve its aims.

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Saffron flowers are seen in full bloom at a field in Pampore play

Saffron flowers are seen in full bloom at a field in Pampore

(Reuters India)
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Farmers say a multi-million dollar plan, launched in 2010 to revive saffron-cultivation in Indian-administered Kashmir by helping counter erratic rainfall, has yet to ensure proper irrigation of the fields.

The sprinkler irrigation in place in saffron fields, which have traditionally depended on rain, was a key objective of the INR 4-billion (58.34 million dollars) National Mission on Saffron.

The mission, led by India’s agriculture ministry, which is due to end early this year, has been extended until March 2018 because it has yet to achieve its aims.

Saffron farmers grow the "king of spices" in fields sprawling across several thousand hectares in the southern part of the Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir.

They have complained for years that lack of rainfall at crucial times has led to decline in production, with things still getting worse.

One or two spells of rain in September and October are vital for the crop to flower.

However, in most years since the late 1990s, it either hasn’t rained in those months or has rained too much, said a farmer, Dilawar Reshi.

In Lethpora-Pulwama, where most saffron production is concentrated, farmers said their concerns about irrigation have yet to be addressed.

“The most important thing the government was supposed to do for us was to make water available for our crop,” said farmer Imtiyaz Ahmad Bhat.

“Though a few tube-wells have been dug in some places, we are yet to see the water in saffron fields.”

The world’s most expensive spice, saffron – whose tiny orange strands are used for seasoning and colouring from southern Europe to South Asia – is grown mainly in Kashmir, Iran and Spain

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